Photo: Tim Clayton / Corbis Via Getty Images
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STORRS — The bun. It’s all about the bun.
On the basketball court, it’s Sarah Bent’s preferred hairstyle. She wears it that way because her favorite player, Katie Lou Samuelson, wears it that way.
“She knows her UConn basketball,” her sister, Molly, a junior with the Huskies, said. “She went through a stage last year where she wore the Katie Lou bun in her games. I was like, ‘What about the Molly ponytail?’ I guess I’m not her favorite player. She’s never actually told me (who is), but I guess the bun says it all. If you’re wearing the bun, it’s got to be Lou.”
Added Kathy, her mother: “We call it the Loudo.”
Kathy pulls up a video on her phone as a reminder. It shows Sarah dribbling around defenders, driving into the paint and finishing strong at the basket during a game, just like Samuelson. It’s a family keepsake.
“Her mannerisms that day were so different,” Kathy recalled Tuesday, laughing. “She was even shaking her legs and her arms to loosen up, like Katie Lou does. We were laughing because it was so unlike her.”
Sarah, 13, has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that slows her reading, writing and math skills, but not her spirit. Her personality is contagious, as is her enthusiasm. She has a youthful exuberance that Molly says is impossible to ignore.
“She has a great sense of humor, too, so she’ll give you a hard time,” Molly said. “(UConn assistant coach) Shea (Ralph) loves how she plays hard to get sometimes. … She’s a great person to have around.”
Like her three older siblings — George, 24; Molly, 21; John, 18 — Sarah is ultra-competitive. She shares a love for basketball with Molly, a 5-foot-9 backup guard for the No. 1 team in the country. Sarah motivates her siblings, and they motivate her. Games at the family’s home in Centerville, Mass., are often intense.
“They don’t give her the ball. They defend her, and they steal it from her,” Kathy said. “They make her work for everything she gets. They don’t just hand it off to her. If she’s dogging it, if she’s not trying hard, they get on her. They roughhouse with her. In fact, she’s not afraid. When she’s playing defense, she’ll really go after the ball.
“She’s treated very much like they’re equals. The driveway games are cutthroat in our house.”
Added Molly: “We joke around a lot. She gives us a hard time and things like that. We just love her to death.”
‘EVERYTHING’S GOING TO BE FINE’
Molly, a three-time New England Prep School All-Star between stints at Barnstable High School and Tabor Academy, had considered attending Ivy League schools Brown and Princeton. Ultimately, though, she — unranked in the Class of 2016 by most recruiting services — chose UConn.
Molly’s role with the 11-time national champions has remained limited. She’s averaging 1.3 points over 8.6 minutes per game — a tick above her average (8.4 minutes) from the past two seasons. Certainly, she’d love to be playing more, but because of Sarah, Molly doesn’t fret.
“She’s a constant reminder of everything is going to be OK,” Molly said Monday following practice. “Honestly, God has a plan for everyone. He had a plan for our family, and she was it. She was a surprise, and she’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to us. We all — all five members of our family — agree that our lives would never be the same if she weren’t in it.
“Whenever I have a tough day here or a tough game or school’s going tough, I can call her and no matter what, she’ll always make me smile and make me laugh. I know everything’s going to be fine.”
Rather than talk over the phone, Molly prefers to communicate through FaceTime so that she can see Sarah’s face. Their conversations brighten Molly’s day.
“Sarah’s so much fun,” senior forward Napheesa Collier said. “You can really see the love that they have for each other. Sometimes, we’ll talk to Sarah on FaceTime and she’ll send gifs and things like that. It’s really cool. We always love when Sarah’s around.”
Sarah is “very high-functioning,” Kathy said, to the point where they barely notice her differences. Now in eighth grade at Barnstable High, Sarah takes a few classes with the rest of the school, including science and history. She also plays on the junior-varsity basketball team.
“My mom does an incredible job of fighting for her and what she needs in the school,” Molly said. “Sarah works so hard in the summer, too, to try to catch up. I think she has three or four tutors every week. It’s incredible, she works harder than I do in a lot of aspects.”
Molly can’t help but smile at her sister’s determination.
“Everything Molly does she shares with Sarah, really,” Kathy said. “I don’t even really know how to describe it. She kind of treats her as an equal. She makes Sarah rise. She brings out the best in her, and Sarah brings a lot of good out of Molly. It’s a very unique relationship.”
[email protected]; @DougBonjour